Steven B. Esparza’s documentary Pistoleros: Death, Drugs and Rock N’ Roll is a good watch even if you don’t know the titular band or whether or not you would know that Tempe, Arizona, bore and continues to cherish an indie music scene full of bands you may know — The Meat Puppets, Gin Blossoms, Jimmy Eat World, The Refreshments, Dead Hot Workshop, Chuck Hall & The Brick Wall, etc. With a history of several bands on major record labels, Tempe became a mini-Seattle and emerged from the desert with a western flare. The director captures it all while still focusing on the Pistoleros, so you can sit back and take it all in with band members, writers, and record label execs.
Mark and Lawrence Zubia were part of a family with five siblings. Lawrence, who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and whose father was a first-generation American from Mexico, calls his family “the Chicano Brady Bunch.” A mariachi musician, Mark and Lawrence’s father’s influence on them led to their love and, to an extent, their worship of music. At the burgeoning music scene in the late 1980s, the Zubia brothers were in the band Live Nudes combining rock, blues, soul, pop, and a little country in Scottsdale, where their band life was born.
“…the Pistoleros were not just talented musicians but also people living a life in a music scene they defined…”
Meeting Doug Hopkins of the Gin Blossoms, who wrote “Hey Jealousy,” was a turning point for them. When he was booted from that well-regarded band, Hopkins joined the Zubia brothers and others to form the Chimeras in 1992. Unfortunately, he didn’t last half a year. His alcoholism and the Zubias numerous and overpowering addictions led to a deep and dark place for everyone. Lawrence’s battle with addiction would last his whole life. Unfortunately, Hopkins could not overcome them. Yet, Lawrence somehow kept his dream of having a gold record alive with a swagger and appeal that defined him even with his love-or-hate relationship with his brother Mark.
Pistoleros: Death, Drugs and Rock N’ Roll is an intimate and very satisfying indie music biopic with a fresh edge. Esparza holds nothing back, as it allows you into the lives of people who endure and who happen to be very likable. It is also an important film as not all talent and historic things happen where you may think they should. The filmmaker creates an environment through a mix of excellent photography, historic archival materials, and good interviews. His technical expertise adds a great deal to this story from the Southwest corner of the U.S.
It also helps that the Pistoleros were not just talented musicians but also people living a life in a music scene they defined. Long Wong’s in Tempe happened to be their spot and a chapter in music history for each. The Zubias survived addictions and suicides that came with their journey and tried to keep on rocking to overcome all that faced them. And 25 years after its founding, the Pistoleros were ready to record a second album, Silver, for Fervor Records. There is a message for everyone in Pistoleros: Death, Drugs and Rock N’ Roll, whether or not you like the music — though the music is pretty awesome.
"…an intimate and very satisfying indie music biopic with a fresh edge."
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